On Katrina, Johnny Cash, and Glenn Beck
There’s a song by the Three Dog Night, covered by Waylon, Elvis, and others which opens with the line, “well, I’ve never been to Spain, but I kinda like the music.” Change it to New Orleans and you have my thoughts on the city. I love the music of New Orleans from King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band of the ’20s, Fats Domino’s work in the ’50s, through to the various jazz, rock, zydeco, and Americana performers of the city today. Other than Memphis and Nashville, the city has created more great music than any other place in the world.
But I’ve never been there, which is why I can’t possibly separate the man-made fiasco of Hurricane Katrina from the other disasters that have happened in our country beginning with the Supreme Court’s 2000 coup of the nation that left an unelected regime with known ties to terrorists (see right) in charge.
The disasters continued: the ignored warnings in August 2001 that allowed 2,976 people to die a month later, the Patriot Act which, coupled with Bush v. Gore took away our right to call ourselves a democracy, the unprovoked attack on the nation of Iraq that left 4,734 of our troops dead (but “You don’t count the dead when God’s on your side,” as Bob Dylan said), the near-destruction of one of America’s great cities, and, of course, the worst economic condition since the Great Depression.
With that in mind, on November 4, 2008, hoping for change, I cast my vote for Barack Obama and since that time I have been totally disappointed by almost every aspect of his Presidency.
I’m not a part of the Tea Party crowd. Allow me to say right here right now that Barack Obama is a natural-born American citizen and is not a Muslim, although it would have no effect on his ability to govern if he was. I also do not believe that Mr. Obama is a Christian, but more on that later. And, judging by his actions so far, “socialist” is the absolute last word I would use to describe him. I’m also not a racist, as anybody who knows me or has read my previous blogs about African-American musicians knows. (At this point, I would quote Chuck D. who said, “Every brother ain’t a brother, cause a color just as well could be undercover,” but I know my limitations. So just listen to it for yourself). In fact, the overt racism and bigotry of the Tea Party movement sickens me.
George Orwell said, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” So here’s the truth. Take it or leave it.
With Barack Obama all we have gotten is Bush with a brain. The rich are still paying less tax, Americans are still dying and one war has even been escalated, health care costs are still ridiculous and Obama gave in to the insurance companies when he had a chance for real change, BP has been allowed to poison our oceans, public education is still a joke, and thousands are still unemployed and barely getting by in this the richest nation on Earth.
I got a phone call last week from a political poll. First they asked me to rank my feelings from 0-100 about various entities and politicians with 100 being the best. I gave a score of zero to the Republican Party and gave the Democrats a one. Because, you see, it’s all lies and bullshit. Neither side is willing to do anything. The “pro-life” Republicans could have put an end to abortion years ago, but they need it as a talking point on the campaign trail. The same goes for the Democrats and the Iraq War. All that either side will do is what their rich corporate donors want them to do. They never actually help the people who voted for them, just those who payed them and through the spin machines behind TV ads and re-election campaigns, we keep falling for it, they keep hurting us, and the rich keep getting more money. This is why I have chosen to vote a straight Independent ticket in November and to vote for Jesse Ventura in 2012.
I caught part of the Glenn Beck “Restoring Honor” rally yesterday. Beck seemed to be talking about the nation’s need to “turn back to God.” I guess even a broken watch is right twice a day.
I’m not trying to push religion on you, but most Americans still claim to be religious and the building blocks of all major religions is love for your fellow man. I don’t care if you’re a Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, Scientoligist, or whatever else. It’s up to you. But my area of expertise lies in Christianity.
America does need to turn back to God, but not the God of Glenn Beck. It needs to turn back to the God who taught us that “the love of money is the root of all evil,” the God who told us to avoid violence by turning the other cheek, the God who forgave a condemned man dying on a cross beside him. The God who told a rich man to “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
Christians need to return to the God of love and charity, not the God of war and bigotry. The God of Martin Luther King and Johnny Cash, not Jerry Falwell and Glenn Beck.
In 1965, King and Malcolm X were both very much alive, as was the Ku Klux Klan (it was the same year that somebody using the pseudonym “Johnny Rebel” recorded the song “Ship Them Niggers Back” among others that have chillingly resurfaced on the internet) when a white man from Arkansas sang these lines:
I’d sing more about more of this land, but all God’s children ain’t free
I’d open up every door I can, ’cause all God’s children ain’t free
I met a beaten broken man, he shovels dirt but got no land
And he held out his hand to me, all God’s children ain’t free
I’d sing along to a silly song, but all God’s children ain’t free
I’m gonna sing the blues for the men they done wrong
‘Cause all God’s children ain’t free
Mister how ’bout the man you condemned to die
By takin’ everything that he’s livin’ by
And reject him from society, all God’s children ain’t free
A year earlier, he had released the album Bitter Tears, which chronicled the plight of Native Americans and for the rest of his life sang about helping the poor and broken (“Man in Black”), accepting hippies (“What is Truth”), protested the Vietnam War (“Singin’ in Viet Nam Talkin’ Blues”) and even sang about the environment (“Don’t Go Near the Water”). In 1970, on his show he recited an impassioned poem about the history and uselessness of war in the middle of a performance of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” In the ’80s he often performed “They Killed Him,” a Kris Kristofferson-penned tune that packs as much of a punch in it’s own subtle way as the Rage Against the Machine song that declares “He turned the power to the have-nots/And then came the shot.”
And I’m haunted by the frail and dying voice on American VI singing a song written by Ed McCurdy and first heard by me in a version by Simon & Garfunkel. “Last night I had the strangest dream I’d ever dreamed before,” Cash sings, “I dreamed that all the world agreed to put an end to war.” He can barely get out the words, but it is among the most powerful performances of his career.
And he also put at least one gospel song on almost every album he made, filmed a movie on the life of Christ called The Gospel Road, and even wrote a book about the Apostle Paul (fittingly titled Man in White).
What has happened to our country? Americans used to turn into The Johnny Cash Show and were treated to an occasional dose of politics or religion, but mostly to outstanding music that still holds up over 40 years later. Now we watch a raving lunatic draw on a chalkboard.
There are several questions I can’t get out of my mind:
If alive, would Johnny Cash accept an invitation by President Obama to play at the White House? And if so would he sing protest songs like he did when he played for Nixon?
Would the Man in Black be a guest of Glenn Beck’s show? And if so what would he have to say about Beck and his brand of “Christianity?”
As Merle Haggard once asked, “Are the good times really over for good?”
And lastly, Cash sang in the early ’70s that “I’d love to wear a rainbow every day and tell the world that everything’s OK/But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back/’Til things are brighter I’m the man in black.” Mr. Cash, who’s gonna fill your shoes and wear your coat?